Personal trainers and fitness coaches need not limit themselves to guidance in the gym alone. Opportunities to encourage lifestyle changes for our clients are vast! As health professionals, we may take for granted the healthy habits that are part and parcel of our daily routines. This may not be so for the average client. Taking clients on a grocery store tour can provide education, feedback, encouragement, and guidance all in one visit.
“Abs are made in the kitchen”
Plenty of quips and fitness phrases have become ubiquitous, reminding us that exercise is but one slice of the healthy-lifestyle pie.
“You can’t out-train a bad diet.”
“Move more, eat less.”
“Eating is just calories in and calories out, it’s a simple equation.”
As a fit pro, I have learned some people get motivated by statements like these. Some roll their eyes and stomach it (pun intended). Some don’t want to hear it! Different techniques motivate different people. Sometimes, when I have clients getting ‘stuck’ with their fitness goals from exercise and movement, we talk nutrition and I’ve learned to take it one step further by taking a ‘field trip’ with them to the grocery store. Sometimes I throw it into their training package as a freebie or incentive. For example, if they complain about hating fruits, vegetables, and healthy foods and say things such as,
“There’s no variety!”
I ask them what types of foods they eat that aren’t boring, bland, and lack variety. I ask them, “What’s that about?”
In response, clients usually list menu items in a restaurant and usually, the restaurant is a fast-food chain. It’s not that the fast-food chain is inherently killing fruits, vegetables, and health foods, it’s that often clients aren’t aware of the healthy foods that are available to them. They operate in the “lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, and pickles” mindset. (due to the pickling process, the vitamin and mineral content in pickles is zilch.)
Some clients may talk about veggies and include bell peppers, spinach, and mushrooms into their repertoire. When they buy fruit or talk about it, they might think of pre-cut, pre-washed varieties like watermelon, honeydew, pineapple, and strawberries.
But what about papaya or jack fruit? What about the lesser-known, lesser lime-light-grabbing veggies like arugula and jicama?
Here’s a list of what may be ‘oddities’ to showcase in the produce section of your grocery tour depending on the season:
- Bok choy
- Swiss Chard
- Purple carrots
- Heirloom tomatoes
Reading Between the Lines
Then there are those ever so illuminating and illustrious grocery store labels with these badges and claims stating they are healthy. What about teaching clients how to read nutrition labels? You may be surprised by how little they understand or consider.
As always, we fit pros must stay within our scope of practice. We don’t “prescribe” fruits and veggies or health foods, but rather educate clients. They might have allergies or be on medications that create contraindications for some foods. We just take them on a tour of the grocery store, teaching them the basics and helping them see the plethora of options that abound and show them common pitfalls.
Tips for Your Tour
Here are some tips and tricks on what to do with your client when taking them on a TOUR of the GROCERY STORE:
1) Don’t go on an empty stomach or when hungry. We tend to gravitate to calorie-dense foods and fast fixes. Plus it’s hard to concentrate and focus. The combination could lead to spending extra and buying things that weren’t on the agenda. If you MUST go grocery shopping when hungry, a great tactic is to bring healthy snacks so you can fill up while you shop. It isn’t ideal, but better than going with your gut on empty!
2) Walk the “perimeter”. Grocery stores are set up in sections. I like to take my clients straight to the produce section and start exploring. Let clients who have heebie jeebies about produce just explore the section on their own. Many times, you’ll hear them say, “Wow what’s this?” Or, “I didn’t know this existed!”
**If you want to provide more structure for them, you can ask them to go find one fruit and one vegetable they have never encountered, heard of, or know about and buy it. When they get home, ask them to find a healthy recipe with the fruit and/or veggie in it. This will help them integrate their newfound items into their eating repertoire.**
3) Read labels! Take clients to the boxed section aisle and ask them to find a ‘health’ food based on reading labels and tags. I always like to teach clients, “The front of the box is like the trailer of a movie while the nutrition labels (on the back or side of the box) are like the credits.”
I’ve definitely been suckered into my fair share of movies based on the trailer. There’s nothing wrong with taking in a spontaneously chosen movie, but, I don’t want to take the same risks with food!
4) Seek out variety. Some clients claim they know how to grocery shop and they’ve been doing it for years; they know what’s out there. So another activity is to create a scavenger hunt list for them, reminding them we want to introduce them to more variety.
5) Frozen is fine. Spend time with clients in the frozen foods aisles. Let’s face it, people are busy (me too!). A big objection to eating healthy is lack of time. There are frozen vegetable options, pre-cut, pre-washed, and some are healthier than others. While in the frozen food aisles, consider asking clients the types of foods they purchase and eat to ‘save time.’ This can help you guide them to similar healthier alternatives.
Some grocery stores have massive pre-washed, pre-cut fresh produce too. This helps save time, but can be more costly.
Caveats and Considerations
Here’s a list of caveats and what to watch out for when taking clients on grocery store tour:
1) Check store policy. Many grocery stores have corporate policies about fitness professionals bringing clients in tour. It’s prudent to check with a manager first by calling and getting approval. If your judgment says that this is a store you go to a lot and you’re only bringing clients in for education purposes only, you may not need to.
Some grocery stores (especially those that are more health-conscious or are categorized as ‘natural,’ ‘whole,’ or ‘farmers market’ type grocery stores) employ a health coach or credentialed nutritional professional. In this case, it is definitely important to check with the store manager ahead of time.
Using discretion is advised! It’s always best to err on the side of caution and to communicate.
2) Get permission. If you are going to film, call ahead of time and get permission. Some will allow it with a signed release of information form while others will not.
3) Don’t draw a crowd. Avoid filming or launching into a passionate lecture in the aisles that can draw a crowd or unnecessary attention. (If you’re a successful fitness professional, chances of this happening are highly likely, I’m guilty of getting passionate myself)!
4) Stick with the mainstream. Sometimes, I prefer to go to a ‘mainstream’ or non-specialty grocery store. Again use discretion. This ends up working out because many of my clients are reluctant and resistant to even go to the produce aisle, nevermind a specialty store categorized as ‘healthy.’ I always try to meet clients where they are and push them or give them stretch goals, but not so much that they snap! That’s the last thing we want to happen from a client at a grocery store.
Food for Thought
Remember, we are Fit Pro’s giving a TOUR of the STORE, trying to introduce new ideas and to open our clients’ minds.
While this article really focuses on the produce section, boxed foods, and frozen food aisles, you can go back to the grocery store for more any time and focus on a different section –dairy, meat/poultry, snacks, bulk, etc. Go with the same idea or try a different direction, but most importantly, have FUN in there!
Taking clients to the store gives them tactile cues too, by allowing them to touch the produce and experience new items. It may sound silly but its another way to get real and build a new relationship with food. It’s not much different than a new client getting to experience fitness equipment for the first time. Imagine a client says they hate working out and all they know about exercise is treadmills and barbells; they have no idea about foam rollers, or stability balls, or Therabands, or medicine balls, or kettlebells!
Imagine the client’s excitement when they realize there’s more to working out than they thought. MIND BLOWN.
That is what taking a tour of the grocery store can do for their relationship to produce and wholesome food can do! As fit pros, we have the ability to powerfully influence that relationship by getting creative and thinking outside the gym.